From the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in June 2015 to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in October 2018, a gulf of division and hostility has been continually expanding, engulfing the bewildered and bored general public into the enormous space between the warring factions on both sides. The USA is divided along a number of different fault lines, between left and right, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, men and women, black and white, cisgender and transgender, rich and poor, for Donald Trump and against Donald Trump, and countless others.
In recent years these divisions have been characterised by an ever-increasing sense of rage, resentment, hostility, intolerance, and above all an us-versus-them mentality, where both sides are incapable of listening to each other and have no intention of doing so. It is of course correct to point out that there has never been a time in history when people have agreed on much, and without a healthy dose of disagreement politics as we know it wouldn’t exist. But it’s the way which we disagree which has taken a turn for the worst, and anyone who values freedom of speech, equality, and social justice, if they aren’t already, ought to be concerned.
This uncivil method of communication and activism which has characterised debate and disagreement in recent years both online and in public life has played out in a number of pernicious ways, most notably in the USA, but with great regret some of its worst features have also been reflected in the UK. Of these features, two stand out as the most harmful to freedom of speech. Disruption of speeches, lectures, and protests in an attempt to shut them down, often resorting to confrontation and intimidation to achieve this, and if that wasn’t enough, no platforming speakers entirely, in particular on University campuses, whose ideas and rhetoric are deemed to be too dangerous for students to hear.
We no longer just disagree with or criticise people who don’t share in our ideas, opinions, beliefs, and values. We demonise them, we despise them, we hate them. We want to violate their right to free speech, destroy their careers, and damage their reputations. We carelessly hurl words like racist, sexist, transphobic, fascist, and communist at people whose lives we know very little about, and we are unable to see any good in those who dare to express a point of view that is different to ours.
It is worth reminding ourselves from time to time that despite our differences and disagreements, we all share the common denominator of being human, living out our lives which are much more than just the sum of our political beliefs and values. People can have strong opinions about Kavanaugh, Trump, Brexit, immigration, abortion, Bill C-16, and the Me Too movement, but these opinions, no matter which side they fall on, should not be the sole criteria on which to judge or condemn those who are not in alignment with our own views on these issues.